With two critically-lauded and internationally celebrated films, life has changed but not much for National Film Award winning-director Rima Das who says she will never compromise with her “creative vision” to woo producers.
A self-taught director, Das was a one-woman army when she shot the coming-of-age “Village Rockstars” in her village in Assam’s Chhaygaon.
“When I did ‘Village Rockstars’, I had nothing. Same thing happened with ‘Bulbul Can Sing’. I don’t feel getting a producer is a struggle because I come from nothing. Now other producers are approaching me. But I have my own equipment, honestly I don’t feel dependent on someone else,” the filmmaker told PTI in a telephonic interview.
Das is now ready to fly to Berlinale, just like her last directorial “Bulbul Can Sing”. The film had its European premiere at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival last year.
But she will be in Berlin in a different avatar – as one of the three jury members of the 14plus International Jury. The other two are, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Amini and South African director Jenna Bass.
14Plus is a sub category of the Generation section at the festival and focused on creating stories for those aged 14 and above.
From Chhaygaon to Mumbai to now Germany, the director said the festival, which runs from Febraury 20 to March 1, is making her feel at home.
“I had a great experience at Berlinale last time and I’m really glad that they are calling me this time as well. But I didn’t expect to be invited there as a jury member and that too so soon,” she said.
Das’ film “Village Rockstars” premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and earned four National Film Awards in 2018, including best film and best editing for the director. The Assamese language feature was India’s official entry to last year’s Academy Awards in the best international film category.
Recounting her time in Berlin last year, the director-writer said she was both “nervous” and “mesmerised”.
“After ‘Village Rockstars’, when ‘Bulbul’ went to TIFF, I knew how to navigate through the festival circuit there. But Berlinale was very new and I knew it has a very experienced audience. Even the kids there are very well-versed and come up to you with a lot of questions.
“I remember sitting there with other filmmakers and wondering if my film could get a prize. And now they are calling for me for the jury, it’s unbelievable. I feel like I’m still learning. But this is an acknowledgement that they love me, respect my work, and understand it. It gives me a lot of confidence.”
“Bulbul…” too has had an interesting flight — the film won best Assamese film at last year’s National Film Awards and best indie honour at 2019 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.
“When ‘Bulbul’ won in Melbourne, they gave me a (professional) Blackmagic camera. Earlier, I had a small camera to shoot with, I now have a bigger one,” she added.
But Das will never trade autonomy of her stories for better funds, she asserted.
“If producers who approach me allow me to work my way, it’s fine. Otherwise it’s pointless. I can always go back to producing my own films. Whether I have an audience of a thousand or a lakh (hundred thousand).
“Even if a thousand people like my film, it works for me. As I evolve, both as a woman and an artiste, I’ll see how it goes. I’d also like to take new challenges. But my creative satisfaction matters the most.”
The director initially came to Mumbai to pursue acting as a career but things did not go according to plan.
Language, at first, was a barrier which she eventually overcame so much so that she might take up her first Hindi feature one day.
“Mumbai has become my second home. I had to learn Hindi and Urdu when I came here long ago with a dream to become an actor. Earlier, I had doubts about speaking a different language, but after becoming a director, I don’t have that phobia anymore. I can speak freely, I’ve picked up some Marathi too,” she said.
“Now that I know the language, there’s a sense of belonging with this city. I understand the city much better today. Mumbai has given me a lot and I have given her a lot. I’d want to do something more here,” she added.
Streaming services are a boon for independent filmmakers like Das, the sound of whose films is sometimes lost in the clamour of big-ticket Bollywood mainstream.
Both “Village Rockstars” and “Bulbul…” recently started streaming on Netflix and medium is not a concern for the director.
“‘Village Rockstars’ did well but ‘Bulbul’ couldn’t as there was a big Bollywood release at the time. We couldn’t manage the number of screens and the film suffered a lot. The more people get to know about the film, the better. Medium doesn’t matter, what matters more is for the film to reach to the masses. I make movies for the cinema halls but when it’s not possible, something is any day better than nothing.”
Das is currently working on a script with actor Tillotama Shome attached to star.
“We start soon. I was working on the story for four-five years. I’m talking to producers. But I feel I’m not getting enough time to write more. This year my focus is on writing and making films,” she added.